Once we finish a personal defense training class, a question that should remain in our minds is, “Where do I go from here?” We trainers almost universally say that you have to practice after a class to ingrain the skills you learned in order to achieve the unconscious competence necessary to prevail in a critical incident. In order to practice properly, you have to have a plan for it. The saying “Only perfect practice makes perfect” applies not only to the physical skills involved but also to the structure of what and how you practice.
There are a number of important things that you can do after a class to ingrain your newfound skills and knowledge. Doing so requires approaching a practice session in a slightly different order than most people would think of when they leave the class. Having an effective practice plan requires certain inputs before the plan can be developed. The steps involved in developing your practice plan might look like:
There are many more personal skills to learn than there are time and resources available to ingrain them; that’s just a fact of modern life. Therefore, you have to have some sense of priorities in your practice regimen. My opinion is that you should spend the majority of your practice time on tasks that relate to your particular world. Once you are proficient with the essential elements of your priorities list, then you can work on the skills necessary for dealing with “ninjas coming from the ceiling.”
The way to begin your prioritization is to understand the modus operandi of the criminal element in your area. When I speak with fellow trainers, it’s always interesting to note the different tactics used by criminals in different areas of the country and the world. This is often driven by topography and geography, but local customs and opportunities are drivers as well. Look closely at your local news reports and talk to law enforcement officers in your area to get an idea of what crimes take place and how they are executed.
For instance, a highly urbanized area where walking is common and the topography is close lends itself to a different range of criminal activities and techniques than a rural area where walking as a transport mode is rare and the topography is wide open. So a set of skills that would be appropriate in the former might be irrelevant in the latter.
The next phase of preparing to practice is to visualize your information and recreate some incidents, either in your mind’s eye or perhaps using a training aid. What you are trying to do is understand the step by step process of how the crime occurred. Just reading or viewing a news report usually gives you only a vague sense of what happened. There is a distinction between criminal information, which is raw data such as a news report, and processed intelligence.
For years, I read numerous accounts of the now almost forgotten Newhall Incident, but I was never quite able to figure out what happened. It wasn’t until I set up the Incident, step by step, using plastic figures, that it became clear to me how two criminals were able to murder four California Highway Patrolmen, severely injure a private citizen, invade a home, capture the family, and come very close to escaping.
While for the most part, this level of detailed re-creation is overkill for private citizens, looking critically at the steps involved in criminal activity is highly useful to see what skills were lacking on the part of the victims or what skills saved the day for them. Then you can work on a prioritized skills list to alleviate deficiencies in your skill set.
Drills are the process of repetitively doing the physical skills you learned in class. As instructors, we can generally only give you enough repetitions to achieve conscious competence at a skill. You have to practice them for awhile to achieve the repetitive task transfer necessary for unconscious competence.
Unfortunately, it’s all too common to view drills as boring and unnecessary. That’s a big mistake. Every competent musician or athlete spends many hours and repetitions doing drills in relation to the actual amount of play when score is being kept.
Remember the skills you trained on in class that you had the most trouble with. If they appear on your list of useful responses for dealing with the criminal element in your area, then that’s the start of your drill list. Work on improving skills you’re not good at -- don’t just make yourself feel good by working on skills you’re already good at.
You also should do some kind of baseline skills assessment each time you practice. This could be a particular set of skills you want to work on because you think they are particularly relevant, or a standardized test you want to do. Your state CCW Qualification Course would be an example. Since my state has no qualification requirement, I use Nevada’s Qualification Course because it’s relevant to my situation and easy to administer.
Test yourself on your baseline and measure your results. By setting a baseline and testing it each time, you get an idea of where you are in your state of training. As your skill progresses, you may find that you want to adjust your baseline, but without a baseline, you have no idea of where you are in your training. Many times people tell me that they’re “good with a pistol,” but when I ask them what that means, I get a vague response like “I can hit the target every time.” If you’re serious about personal defense, that’s not much of an answer.
Combining drills to make incident scenarios is the way you convert your square-range training into real-world life-saving skills. While this is ideally done on a live-fire range, if you don’t have access to a range where you can set up scenarios, get a dummy replica of your firearm and practice where you can. Pick a situation from your research that you could picture happening to you and then practice dealing with it. Think of it in terms of “What would I do now if …?” and then execute your plan.
A very successful executive once told me, “Measure everything of significance. Anything that is measured and watched, improves.” Your baseline is part of this, but there are a number of other inputs you will notice during your practice sessions that will be important to you. Write them down as soon as you finish. You may want to take pictures of what you did so you can refer to them. Then make notes on items you want to work on next time. If you can do this documentation before you even leave the range, that’s best. If you can’t, do it that day when you get home. Your memory won’t be nearly as good the next day.
Training is expensive in terms of finances, time, and effort. You want to make the most of it and get a good return on your training investment. Following up with a specific practice program is an important part of maximizing your return. If you don’t, it won’t be long before you’re back almost to square one in your proficiency development.